With Japanese RPG series The Legend of Heroes more popular than ever before here in the West, we wanted to get in touch with developer Falcom to find out more about the franchise and its future. Luckily, we landed an interview with Falcom president Toshihiro Kondo himself, and he was happy to answer some of our most prominent questions.
We asked Kondo-san about upcoming titles Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure, the current state of the series, bringing more Trails games West, and what's next for The Legend of Heroes. Read on to find out what he had to say.
To start with, can you tell us about where The Legend of Heroes series is at right now? What are your overall thoughts on the long-running series here in 2022?
Toshihiro Kondo, president of Falcom: With the release of Kuro no Kiseki, I would say that we are about 60%-70% through the entirety of the story. Originally, I was happy to just to let the series go as far as it could with no real sense of an endpoint, and honestly, I didn't think it would continue as long as it has. We’re extremely glad to be able to continue to work on it.
The next Trails game to release here in the West is the remastered Trails from Zero on PS4. Can you give us a quick overview of what Trails from Zero and its sequel, Trails to Azure, are all about?
These two games are set in Crossbell, which is a small autonomous state focused on finance and is sandwiched in between two large countries. The tale follows the exploits of the Special Support Section of the Crossbell Police Department.
Within the overall Trails series, these two games deal with perhaps the most realistic societal issues and the story itself unfolds highlighting the main characters’ humanity. The game is in what could be termed a “classic style,” but the story and game experience are in no way lesser than what has come since and I still am confident in their appeal.
Do you have any memories of first developing Trails from Zero back on the PSP?
Originally, we had no plans to make either Zero or Azure. Crossbell had just been a location mentioned by someone in the Trails in the Sky games. Actually, right when we had wrapped up work on the Trails in the Sky games, we had intended to start the Cold Steel games. However, the Cold Steel games are grand works set in the colossal Empire. To portray this, we thought the development difficulty hurdle might be a bit too high coming off Trails in the Sky.
We decided that we could show Crossbell, which is under the Empire’s control, as a way of showing the Empire’s power as well as the problems and mysteries facing the continent of Zemuria. By doing so, we could brush up our own development skill level and so we made this sudden developmental addition. With all that’s followed, I now can’t imagine having not made these games.
The Legend of Heroes series has such a gigantic cast of characters now. Do you ever find it difficult keeping track of so many characters, as well as the events that happen across all of the games?
This is a question that we often receive, and I would love to be answer with pride saying, “Actually we have this amazing internal system.” But the truth is, we don’t really have any special system of keeping track of anything. Basically, we gather all of the previous resources and carefully explain what’s come before to new staff members until they’ve absorbed it.
Whenever we write about a Trails game, we get at least one person asking where to begin with the series. Do you ever worry that the size of the franchise intimidates potential players?
The overarching Trails series can be divided into the following subseries: Trails in the Sky, Trails from Zero/to Azure, Trails of Cold Steel/into Reverie, and Kuro no Kiseki. I recommend starting from the initial title in any of those subseries. The locations and main characters are different as well as when the events occur in the timeline.
With the change of main character and setting, both the player and the main character are starting from the same figurative start line, so it’s easier to get caught up with things as a whole. One of the reasons that we periodically change the main characters and locations is to allow new players a chance to have multiple entry points to the series.
What kind of methods do you use to ensure that new players don't get lost when they're new to The Legend of Heroes series?
The answer is basically the same as the previous. Incidentally, we don’t only change up the main characters and locations, we often update the game systems as well. With a series as long as this, it’s important to make the gameplay friendly to new players, so it’s necessary to revise the gameplay systems to make them fresh and engaging.
The Legend of Heroes games always offer difficulty settings — which is something that a lot of other Japanese RPGs don't do. Do you think difficulty settings are an important part of reaching a wider audience?
There are various types of players. There are players who are mainly there to enjoy the story as well as those who place importance on making their characters stronger or doing side activities. There are also players who want to enjoy the game over several playthroughs. In the early days of the series, we didn't have difficulty settings, wanting to have each player go through the same experience, however more recently, we’ve tried to adapt to the various desires of the different types of players by offering a range of choices.
The Legend of Heroes has evolved so much over the years, to the point where the newest games run on a fully 3D engine with advanced visuals, and even feature action-based combat. Has the franchise evolved in any ways that you didn't anticipate?
At first glance, it might seem that things have completely changed compared to the first games, but I feel Kuro no Kiseki is the result of the accumulated experience we’ve gained in the creation of the series. We didn't just add action elements to the game, but rather they are they extension of the Field Attacks as they appeared in the Cold Steel games. We’ve also wanted to improve the tempo of combat, so we’ve created a synthesis of a turn-based and action system. I think one of the merits of a long running series is being able to improve the series like this.
The new Kuro no Kiseki saga is getting its second game in Japan later this year, but we have to ask — do you have any plans to bring the Kuro no Kiseki games West?
Of course we intend to have it come out in the West. There might be a time gap between it and the Japanese release, but please wait for more information once everything is decided.
Can you tell us anything about the future of The Legend of Heroes as a franchise? How far in advance do you plan each game out, and what's next for the series?
There are things that we have planned out previously as well as things that we adjust during development based on user feedback or the thoughts of the dev team at that point in time. For example, there were many ideas that we used in Trails into Reverie that were offered by younger staff members. As I mentioned before, we didn't have plans to make the Crossbell games originally.
As the series continues, we believe we need to be flexible in our approach to the changing environment.
The Legend of Heroes is probably more popular now in the West than it ever has been, with the Trails of Cold Steel saga gaining a lot of fans. Do you view The Legend of Heroes as a global franchise these days, rather than something that targets a Japanese audience?
We don’t really think too much about targeting Japan or a global audience when making the games as at the crux of everything is us creating the games that we want to make. However, it should be said that we have more non-Japanese people on the Trails series staff than ever before. We’d like to think we’re using their unique ideas to bring even more to the table for the games.
And finally, do you have anything you'd like to say to Western fans?
Traveling to events in the West, I was often asked directly by fans to bring these games out here. This has been on my bucket list for many years now. I feel now that the games are finally coming out, a weight has been lifted from my shoulders.
The games’ content and graphics might feel like they’ve come from another era, but I'm extremely confident that Falcom games retain their quality through time and remain as fun and engaging. We hold to this philosophy when developing today. I hope that many people try these games and are able to get a sense of that quality. We will be more than gratified if they do.
Huge thanks to Kondo-san for taking the time to answer our questions. Special thanks to Kerry Barrett and the teams at Reef Entertainment, NIS America, and NIS for making this interview possible.
Are you a Trails fan? Are you looking forward to the localisation of Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure? Continue the story in the comments section below.